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12 January 2015, 14:27
Chessington World of Adventures has been fined £150,000 for safety failings after a four-year-old girl suffered severe head injuries when she fell nearly 13ft while queuing for a ride.
The girl tumbled from a raised walkway as she waited in line for the Tomb Blaster ride at the popular theme park in Surrey on June 7, 2012.
She was in hospital for a month with injuries including a fractured skull, bleeding to the brain and broken ribs, and still needs extensive rehabilitation and specialist support.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said it prosecuted Chessington World of Adventures Operations after finding the girl had fallen through a gap in a wooden fence.
In a statement, the parents of the girl, who cannot be named, spoke of the difficulty the family has faced since the fall.
They said: "The past few years have been very tough for all the family but she has got stronger and stronger which has kept us going.
"We wanted to know exactly how this incident was able to happen and how she could fall so far while queuing for a children's ride.
"One minute we were enjoying a fun day out and the next she is fighting for her life.
"We are grateful that the HSE carried out a thorough investigation and we are relieved that the criminal trial is now over and the park's owners have accepted responsibility for the accident.
"This should never have happened and we hope that both Chessington World of Adventures and other public attractions learn from this to improve safety in future."
The family is being represented by law firm Irwin Mitchell. Claire Howard, a serious injury lawyer at the firm, said that although the HSE prosecution has now ended, a civil claim continues.
Ms Howard said: "It is unknown what (the girl's) long-term prognosis will be but the rehabilitation package that we have implemented gives her parents peace of mind that she is making the best possible recovery and is enabling them to get their lives back on track."
Chessington said in a statement: "Chessington World of Adventures regards the health and safety of its guests and employees as its number one priority.
"The resort has an excellent safety record with no previous convictions or enforcement notices against it, and every year invests significant resources in maintenance and safety measures.
"What happened to the young child was an isolated incident which we deeply regret, and from the outset we have put in place a package of support for the child and the family which will continue for as long as is required.
"We also co-operated fully with the HSE investigation. This showed both a rigorous inspection and maintenance regime, and evidence not only of very swift action by staff, but also that the paling was dislodged by the application of exceptional force upon it shortly before the accident.
"Nevertheless, following the incident in 2012, we worked with the HSE to act on all their comments, including putting some additional measures in place such as the installation of a new metal safety fencing along the queue line."
The HSE said that Chessington did not have an adequate system of checking or inspecting the fencing or a maintenance process to ensure faults were remedied.
"Today Chessington World of Adventures Operations was fined £150,000 and told to pay £21,614 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974", the HSE said.
"The HSE said the fence palings were positioned where they were hit by rainwater from the roof, exacerbating their lack of weather resistance.
"And there was evidence that numerous palings had been refixed over the years, indicating that there was a recurrent problem", investigators added.